The sunshine's nice and all, but if we had to pick one thing to bottle up and save each summer, it'd be the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that pop up at farmers markets all season long.
For food writer Jamie DeMent, it's a total must-do. Her grandmother had a special kitchen dedicated just to canning! Parts of each summer weekend during DeMent's childhood were spent in that kitchen, helping her grandmother can and freeze berries, butter beans, corn, peas, and apples. Always apples.
When DeMent searches through her upright freezer at home today, she sees those same foods — plus okra, zucchini, roasted tomatoes, and compound butter and pestos that preserve fresh herbs. "I get worried the apocalypse is coming," she says with a laugh. "I've never managed to use everything in my freezer."
DeMent's forthcoming cookbook, The Farmhouse Chef, starts with summer and moves through the year to spring. "That's because my cooking life starts in the summer every year. It's when I'm canning tomato sauce and freezing butter beans, preparing for the rest of the year."
Just about anything can be frozen — except potatoes and sweet potatoes, which are best left in their skins in a cool, dark place, she says. So how does she freeze all this goodness? Here's a little cheat sheet.
Technique: Flash freeze
How to do it: Arrange the fruit in a single layer on a sheet pan (you can layer with waxed or parchment paper if you like) and leave in the freezer for at least four hours and up to a day or two. Then rake the berries into a zip-top bag. Push as much air out of the bag as you can and store in the freezer.
More on Freezing Fruit
Freezing Okra, Zucchini, Corn, Shelled Peas, Green Beans, and More
Technique: Blanch and freeze
How to do it: Bring a pot of water seasoned with a bit of salt (it'll help preserve bright-green color — but skip it when you're freezing zucchini) to a rolling boil. Dice zucchini, remove kernels from ears of corn, or otherwise prep your vegetables. (You can also leave corn on the cob and small veggies like okra whole. Just work with one type of vegetable at a time.) Fill a large bowl with ice and water and place it to the side.
Place veggies in a blanching bag (or have a spider or fine-mesh sieve at the ready) and plunge those veggies into the boiling water for a minute. Then dunk them into the ice bath immediately to stop the cooking process. Pat the vegetables dry and arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan as detailed in the flash-freeze instructions above.
More on Blanching and Freezing Vegetables
Freezing Apples, Tomatoes, and Butternut Squash
Technique: Cook and freeze
How to do it: You can freeze these things either whole or cut up into slices as is, but DeMent likes to roast them first (usually at 400°F for about 30 minutes). Roast tomatoes with a little olive oil and garlic. Slice hard squash into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch discs and roast them short of fully cooked (they should remain firm). Cool your ingredients thoroughly, then place in zip-top bags, pushing as much air out as possible before sealing. Instead of coring and cutting up apples, DeMent turns them into applesauce and then freezes it in ice cube trays.
More on These Ingredients
Freezing Basil, Cilantro, Other Herbs, And Arugula
Technique: Compound and freeze
How to do it: You thought we were going to tell you freeze chopped herbs in olive oil, didn't you? DeMent likes to make the most of fresh herbs by turning them into a compound butter or making a pesto and freezing both. She likes to freeze pesto in ice-cube trays — a one-ounce cube will cover a large portion of cooked pasta. And when she makes logs of compound butter, she takes the extra step of slicing the logs into pats before freezing for easy access when a veggie side needs a punch of herbal flavor and salty butter.
More on Freezing Herbs
How Long Will Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Last?
DeMent uses zip-top bags for much of her freezing, because vegetables don't typically stay in her freezer for very long. (Because she eats them!) If you do plan to keep something in the freezer for up to a year — like she had to with an extreme bumper crop of corn one season — take the extra step of vacuum sealing bags using a machine like a FoodSaver. It'll help prevent freezer burn and preserve precious moisture inside vegetables.
Buy: FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing Starter Kit, $54
Note: The USDA doesn't have guidelines for maximum freezer time for fruits and vegetables, but the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends no longer than 12 months.
How are you freezing and saving all this summer's produce?